Unions: 6 Months With No Las Vegas Construction Deaths Good

December 30, 2008

Union officials representing construction workers on the Las Vegas Strip say several factors have helped improve safety at large project sites, leading to no deaths in the past six months.

There were 12 construction deaths during the previous year and a half.

“There’s a marked difference,” said Greg McClelland, a safety representative for the Ironworkers union. “There’s been a palpable effort by all parties. It’s not just Perini, but everyone has really taken stock.”

In June, workers at the $9.2 billion CityCenter site on the Las Vegas Strip went on strike for one day to protest safety conditions. Federal, state and local officials stepped in to review conditions and discuss government oversight and improving work sites.

“Safety is so much about culture, about environment,” said Steve Holloway, a local vice president for the Associated General Contractors, which represents 700 contractors. “If management from top down is concerned, then employees are going to be concerned about safety. And if they’re concerned and conscious, then there are fewer accidents and that’s what’s happening at CityCenter and other sites.”

The massive project owned in partnership by MGM Mirage Inc. and Dubai World is scheduled to open in late 2009. It is expected to include six high-rise tower with hotels, condominiums a casino and high end retail and entertainment.

The walkout, which took place three days after a sixth CityCenter worker died on the project, marked a reversal for the unions that were previously reluctant to blame contractors and express public concern for the safety of workers.

The unions won concessions from the project’s general contractor, Perini Building Co., which promised to allow safety researchers onto the site and provide 10 hours of safety training for all workers.

“It opened eyes and made the contractors and the owners very much aware of our genuine concern for worker safety,” said John Christiansen, business manager of Sheet Metal Workers Local 88. “The old way of doing things — to continue the course regardless of the cost — changed dramatically. Safety is now more well-thought-out in the day-to-day procedures.”

While union officials say safety is improving at sites, Pete Stafford, the executive director of the Center for Construction Research and Training said contractors can always improve.

The research center was granted full access to CityCenter for safety studies, and found Perini was sending mixed messages to its employees on safety.

Stafford said he could not comment specifically on the studies until Perini responds to them. Perini declined comment to the Las Vegas Sun.

“You think you have good safety culture at the top, but by the time it gets to the bottom that’s not necessarily the case,” he said.

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